Melanie Warner wrote a 2000 word article for the business section of the New York Times titled Is America Ready to Quit Coal, that was published online on February 14, 2009. (There is also a note on the article that indicates that a version of it appeared in the print edition on February 15, 2009 on page BU1.) The article focuses on the challenges faced by utility companies like Duke Energy to build new coal fired power plants. In Duke’s case, its large Cliffside project is being subjected to protests and court challenges.
The article also describes a $100 million dollar carbon capture and storage research and development project at American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia. That project has some thought provoking numbers associated with it. The Mountaineer plant, rated at 1300 MWe, currently emits more than 8.5 million metric tons of CO2 each year from its 150 foot tall smokestack. By using a chilled ammonia process developed by Alstom, AEP hopes to capture and store 100,000 to 300,000 metric tons of CO2 (1.2 – 3.5% of the total) annually. If that project is successful, AEP may install a larger system at another power plant. According to the information brochure about the plan published by the company, that system, not yet designed, may capture as much as 1 million metric tons of CO2 each year and be ready for operation by 2012.
As I read through the Times article, I kept losing focus by wondering when the author or one of the half dozen or so high level influencers mentioned would use the “N” word. I continued to expect that someone would say that a number of utilities, including Duke Energy, are planning to avoid the challenges of carbon regulation and carbon capture and storage technology development and demonstration by building fission power plants that do not emit any CO2 at all. After all, this article is in the business section, the place that people with money to invest visit with great regularity for news about policies, technologies and developments that affect the bottom line.
After completing the article the first time, I had to resort to search technology to see if I had missed sometime. According to Safari’s search on this page option, I had. It told me there was one occurrence of “nuclear” on the page, in the following context:
Others have even broader ambitions. Dan W. Reicher, Google’s director for climate change and energy initiatives, is confident it’s possible to wean ourselves off coal. Last year he devised a plan, called Clean Energy 2030, that calls for America to go almost fossil fuel-free by 2030.
His proposal entails keeping electricity demand flat by aggressively pursuing energy efficiency, thus bypassing the need for new coal plants to meet growing demand. All existing coal generation and about half of our current natural gas production would be replaced with a medley of clean electricity propelled by wind, solar, nuclear and other sources.
So here we have an article published on the front page of the Sunday business section by a publication that likes to assert that it is our newspaper of record that is all about a major challenge in electrical power production but it mentions nuclear power only in a sentence where it is listed third as an alternative after wind and solar.
We have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, there are some voices and keyboards that are working hard to share a business focused message about the opportunities for prosperity and development offered by investing now in clean power plants that will last 60-100 years into the future and provide huge and continuing benefits. You might enjoy, for example, a recent op-ed piece by Lynn Edward Weaver, president emeritus of the Florida Institute of Technology, published in the Orlando Sentinel on February 15. That piece, titled Nuclear power will bolster the economy, offers some impressive numbers.
At least New Yorkers on vacation at Disney World have a chance to come home with a better understanding of the investment potential in new nuclear power plant construction than they would have received if they stayed home in their apartments and spent Sunday morning reading the Times.